Like several genres, puzzle games are divided amongst hardcore fans and strong pessimists. One side finds joy in figuring out a complex problem using their own knowledge, critical thinking, and perseverance. The other side finds frustration in the difficulty and, at times, lack of hand-holding. Which brings us to British indie developer Shifting Tides, who has been hard at work on their debut title: The Sojourn. The Sojourn is a first person puzzle game, reminiscent of The Witness and the Portal series, but still feeling original.
The story is minimalist, presenting itself with short textual observations on life and static images of a human’s growth, physically and mentally. The music and sounds are minimalistic as well, further helping the peaceful yet ominous feeling that the game provides. The visuals aren’t in this style, but they aren’t the major focus and feel more foundational for the gameplay.
As previously mentioned, the gameplay revolves around solving puzzles mainly, getting from point A to point B in each area. Players will explore in a first person perspective with a limited set of abilities and input commands. They’ll often solve puzzles by swapping places with and activating statues that trigger certain mechanics. Of course, new mechanics introduce themselves as the game goes along, furthering your mental skillset along the way. So with all this minimalism, is it worth playing?
There’s nothing like spending several minutes (hopefully not too, too long) looking at a problem, playing around with ideas, and having that “aha” moment. Thankfully, these moments are plentiful throughout the game. The bonus challenges are presented in a wonderful fashion. They’re optional secondary puzzles, but they add an additional challenge that further test your mettle. Upon entering a new section of the game, the world feels vibrant and colorful.
The perspective feels a little too zoomed in, especially when going through enclosed areas. The result is diminishes peripheral vision, but it’s not game-breaking. It takes a while for the environment to change, so the first few hours feel a bit repetitive. The short melody played by the harp puzzle mechanic is endearing at first, but becomes annoying after the umpteenth time. Upon completing the optional challenges, the game rewards you with scrolls that often read like a bad fortune cookie. For example, “Silence often leads to clarity. Those who don’t treasure silence, walk through the valley of shadows.” Ominous, but ultimately unnecessary.
The Sojourn doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it does enough to carve its own identity and succeed. The story weaves nicely throughout each section and touches on the visuals and mechanics of each respective area very well. For puzzle game fans, this is a strong recommendation. It’s not an all-time great, but it is worth the time.